Confirmation of the First Neolithic Rondel-Type Enclosure in Poland

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Nature of the rondels

The first excavations of early fifth-millennium Central European Neolithic circular ditched enclosures of the rondel-type took place over a century ago. Nevertheless, it is only within the last 25 years that these monuments, most of which have been truncated by ploughing (Figure 1), have emerged as a characteristic type of archaeological site, thanks to systematic aerial photography, geophysical prospection and large-scale rescue excavations (Petrasch 1990:411-14; Trnka 1991: 12-13; Kovarnik et al. 2006). At present, depending on one's definition of the type and willingness to accept unconfirmed aerial photographs, c. 130 to 150 known rondel-enclosures (Figure 2) can be mapped on a trajectory stretching from southern Hungary to central Germany (Neubauer et al. 2010: fig. 2; Literski & Nebelsick 2012: map 1).

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The results of intensive surveys and large-scale excavations have led to the realisation that the structure and function of rondels are closely related to those of south-eastern European tells, whose western distribution ends where the most eastern rondels begin, making it clear that they can be seen as subsets of a unified phenomenon (Chapman et al. 2006; Meier-Arendt 2007; Luning 2009; Raczky & Anders 2009; Literski & Nebelsick 2012). Carpathian and south-eastern European tells were probably originally surrounded by compact concentric ditched and palisaded enclosures which--like those of rondels--are the result of dynamic cycles of construction, destruction and rebuilding, either on the same site or relocations in close proximity (Raczky et al. 2007; Raczky & Anders 2009; Anders et al. 2010). In the few cases where this is discernable, the ditches of tells--like those of rondels--have symmetrically spaced causeways which are characteristically aligned to the cardinal points. Both rondels (Trnka 1991: 300; Midgley et al. 1993; Schmotz 2007; Milo & Kazdova 2008; Melichar & Neubauer 2010: 81-83) and tells (Chapman 1997: 13762; Raczky 1998; Rosenstock 2009: 108-109) are located on the periphery of large-scale settlements, generally on the point of a wetland peninsula or on the tip or flank of a gentle spur. The settlements, which tend to have long histories of continual occupation, are at the same time focal points of regional settlement clusters.

Of course, the activities inside the ditch and palisade circuits of the two monument types must have been drastically different from each other. While tells grow through a cycle of building and collapse of mud-plastered, domestic structures, no rondel ditch can conclusively be shown to enclose anything more than a scatter of pits. Nonetheless, there are startling similarities between Carpathian tells and, for example, Slovakian and Austrian rondels, including extraordinarily high percentages of wild animals in the bone assemblages, implying large-scale feasting (e.g. Ambros 1986; Schwartz 1998; Schmitzberger 2007; Raczky & Anders 2010: 147). The meaning and function of both monument types, while ambiguous and complex, must have been crucial to the functioning of the society which constructed and used them. The rondels were abandoned shortly before the mid fifth millennium, at the same time as the Carpathian tells were deserted, marking the collapse of the pan-central and south-eastern European Danubian Neolithic (Link 2006).

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Rondels in Poland

In the mid 1990s, aerial reconnaissance led by Otto Braasch and Gunter Wetzel revealed the existence of rondel-type sites in central Germany, along the mid Elbe--Saale corridor and perhaps extending as far north as the lower Odra Valley (Wetzel 1994; Schwarz 2003: 45-48; Stauble 2007; Meyer 2012). Even though the Neolithic dates of the most northern central German rondels have since been called into question, this discovery led to a significant northern extension of the known distribution of this monument type, making it very likely that rondels would also appear in the northern fringe of Danubian Neolithic distributions in Poland. …